The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

New Australian Cinema


Since the 1970s Australian films have increasingly come to world attention. Critically acclaimed films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock ( Peter Weir, 1975) and My Brilliant Career ( Gillian Armstrong, 1979) have been followed by the major international successes of Mad Max ( George Miller, 1979), Crocodile Dundee ( Peter Faiman, 1986), and Strictly Ballroom ( Baz Luhrmann, 1992). Then, in 1993, New Zealand-born Jane Campion became the first woman to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, with the Franco-Australian production The Piano ( 1993), sharing the prize with Chen Kaige's Farewell my Concubine ( 1993). It is an impressive record for a country with a population of only 18 million, especially one whose feature film industry had been moribund throughout the 1960s.

THE 1960s

During the 1960s only fifteen features were made in Australia. Of these, eight were wholly or substantially financed and controlled by non-Australian interests. While there had been continuous documentary filmmaking throughout the post-1945 drought of features, cinema screens had long been dominated by Hollywood, and sporadically by British product. The 1960s' most significant films were the popular Italian immigrant-Australian girl love story of the UK co-production They're a Weird Mob ( Michael Powell, 1966), and the self-consciously all-Australian 2000 Weeks ( Tim Burstall, 1969), heralding the feature renaissance.

The revival of Australian film in the 1970s was preceded by a quarter-century of such minimal production. There was another, more broadly historical legacy against which the resurrected feature production had to struggle. Australia's post-colonial history being dominional rather than post-revolutionary (like Canada's but unlike India's), the Australian cultural assertion embodied in the feature renaissance had to counter a long history of willing subservience to other countries' economic, political-strategic, and cultural interests.

1970-1975: THE AFDC PERIOD

In 1970, after years of lobbying by film cultural campaigners, notably commentators Tom Weir and Sylvia Lawson and film producer Antony Buckley, the Australian government made a move to establish infrastructural support for the feature film industry. The Prime Minister responsible, John Gorton, believed that the new Australian films could show the rest of the world that their country contained 'other things than avant-garde kangaroos or Ned Kellys'. However, this infrastructural support was provided in a form which highlighted the unequal balance of powers between Australian cultural nationalist drives and US/ Hollywood interests. On the one hand, cultural nationalist assertion underpinned the 1970 establishment of agencies to fund production and training: the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC), the Experimental Film and Television Fund (EFTF), and the Australian Film and Television School (AFTS) handling film-production training. On the other hand, a certain cultural diffidence and failure of political will may be seen to underlie the key omission from that agenda, namely government intervention in the distribution sector dominated by Hollywood interests. Throughout the feature revival period, from 1970 to the present, Hollywood's boxoffice share has averaged about 80 per cent, higher than in almost all its other foreign markets, while Australian product has rarely exceeded 5 per cent, with some 70 per cent of films making a loss.

The principal funding agency of 1970-5 was the AFDC, which proclaimed a commercial and investor-oriented policy. In default of any feature film infrastructure, any regular production practices or generic traditions, or any pool of personnel or marketing expertise, its funding decisions were understandably hit-and-miss. The EFTF supported mostly short, experimental work such as cartoonist Bruce Petty's eighteen-minute tour de force, Australian History ( 1971), and Peter Weir's black comedy short Homesdale ( 1972). During this period the industry was enthusiastically amateurish, working with budgets below A$0.5m., with crew members often taking on multiple roles, and with relevant experience -- if any -- drawn only from television, documentary, or commercials.

Distributors were hostile to Australian product. Prior to Alvin Purple ( Tim Burstall, 1973), feature producers routinely took their films direct to individual down-market city theatres, as the distributors, all dominated by American interests, preferred the proven track records and ready-made publicity packages of Hollywood imports. However, in 1973 the Tariff Board Report recommended 'legislative provision to adjust and regulate the ownership and control of cinemas', and although the recommendation was never implemented distributors and exhibitors felt threatened. Hence the 1973 Australia-wide release of Alvin Purple, and increasing subsequent investment in and support for Australian production by distributors. The lower-budget experimental sector, funded by the EFIT, fell way below the threshold of visibility in these calculations. The anomaly of government subsidy for producing films that went virtually unseen was often


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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